MØ: I have to admit that for some reason I had doubts about how Karen would deliver her songs live. It only took her two songs to prove me wrong, and when she did “XXX 88” she rocked those doubts down. I even said to my friends during the fourth song “Glass” “this is probably the best show we have seen so far this weekend”. Then something happened — The band stopped playing and in the middle of the song she announced that there was something wrong with their computer and that they would have to fix it otherwise they would not be able to keep playing. They started searching for solutions but nothing happened so they had to pack their things and call it a night. It’s like eating a big fat steak, taking one bite and then someone coming and taking it away from you. This was just a huge bummer. ?*/5*
Omar Souleyman: Souleyman mixes together Arabic folk music and heavy techno beats and samples various songs like “If Ya Getting Down” by the legendary boy band Five. From the second he started playing he got the crowd wild and a lot of people jumping and screaming which can be a rare thing for sophisticated Iceland Airwaves guests. I have never seen a show like this before and it definitely was a fun experience. I’m probably not going to buy his albums or listen to him on daily basis but I would love to see him perform again. 3*/5*
AlunaGeorge: I had a hard time sacrificing seeing Fucked Up play to see AlunaGeorge. I truly regret making that sacrifice. It looked like it was going to be good show to start with. The crowed was digging songs like “Your Drums, Your Love” and “You Know You Like It” but other songs she performed didn’t stand out. Her performance was too safe and in my opinion her voice isn’t good enough. I had a hard time keeping my attention on the stage and watching them because of lack of contact between Aluna, George, and the audience. 2*/5*
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Mac DeMarco: Surprisingly there was no nudity in DeMarco’s show this time. He came on stage with three other band members who all had good input on the show. The guitar particularly sounded so clean and smooth it was like you could see the notes float in the air coming out of the instrument. Mac said in the beginning that he had some problems singing because of a sore throat, but he sounded better than I imagined. He went from singing in an elegant high pitched voice down to cool, deep whiskey style. The whole band was lively and had a very comfortable performance. They were louder than I had thought and always very tuned. The best thing about the band’s performance was its inventiveness. When DeMarco announced there were only two songs left they played a couple of cover songs — for example, a heavy metal version of “Blackbird” were the bassist stretched his vocal chords. They also performed Metallica’s song “Enter Sandman”, the Police song “Message in a Bottle,” and then to trump it all they played “Break Stuff” by Limp Bizkit to which the guitarist was spitting the lines. To end the show they slowed things down and played the beautiful song “Still Together” and DeMarco crowd surfed while providing nice high pitch vocals. 4,5*/5*
Mykki Blanco: To get the party started, Mykki sent out a hype man. He performed some odd stunts, rapping and screaming to some hip-hop rock beats. His mission to rouse the crowd failed completely but it sure was interesting. But things were about to get more and more interesting. When Mykki finally came on stage, wearing a provocative dress and turning the concert into a drag show, the crowd went wild and he got the vibe from the audience that was needed. After witnessing him stripping off the dress and showing off some nipple tassels, I didn’t know what to expect musically. When Mykki began to perform his songs the show got to another level. His rapping skills are admirable and the flow was very tight. Mixing together punk and hip-hop created something I have never heard before. Mykki was obviously exited to play this concert. He did some a cappella rhymes which were very well delivered. I wasn’t so sure about whether I would like Mykki’s music before attending the concert but after this show I am a fan of this drag queen of Hip-hop. 3,5*/5*
Gold Panda: In my opinion it tends to be kind of weird to stand in a huge crowd and watch some guy press buttons and play with his computer. This time it wasn’t weird at all. Gold Panda truly knows how to create some exotic warm electronic beats that are very easy to dance to. The sound wasn’t perfect and maybe he had some technical problem but that didn’t matter considering that he was performing at 23:00 on a Saturday night. Most of the songs he played are from his new album, Half of Where You Live, and the crowed was digging it. 3,5*/5*
Savages: The coolest act of Iceland Airwaves this year was definitely the four girls from the band Savages. Just with walking on stage they announced without saying it “if you don’t like our music then fuck off”. The band’s style is punk rock, and they dress and perform in that way. The drummer has a big role in their show and showed some good skills pounding the skins. Also Jehnny Beth, the band’s vocalist, gave a powerful performance and sang with much empathy. It wasn’t so crowded at the venue but most of the people seemed to like what they were seeing. On the down side, the songs Savages perform started to sound the same as the show went on. For that reason I sometimes lost attention, but the drummer always knocked me back in. 3*/5*
FM Belfast: There is no better way of ending a Saturday night then attending a FM Belfast concert. The venue was crowded with people in all kinds of conditions but everyone went wild without exception. Originally, FM Belfast featured four band members, but this time they were supported by two guys. That gave the three singers of the band more space to move around and hype the crowd. To be honest, my memory doesn’t recall much about this concert, except for jumping up and down, sitting on the floor, and some ribbons and stuff being thrown off the stage. It truly was a blast. 4*/5*
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Sometime: This Icelandic duo was formed in 2005 and has made two albums. The brain in the band is TheDanni, who writes, records, and produces their music. During the bands set he had a lot on his hands, maybe too much, and had some problems keeping up with the beat. He was playing beats from the computer while doing fills on the electronic drum pad. Sometimes less is more in music and TheDanni should keep that in mind in the future. Supporting him on stage was Diva de la Rosa providing vocals with a powerful voice and confident stage performance. They had their ups and downs during the show but it was still a good effort. The hall wasn’t very crowded but everyone seemed to be having a good time — the band members as well. 2,5*/5*
Prins Póló: For those who do not speak Icelandic, the Prins Póló shows are not as much fun to watch as for those who do. The lyrics are so important to their performance and if you don’t understand it you’ll probably be saying “WTF?” a couple of times during the show. Their pop punk style is just hilarious, creating an atmosphere similar to a stand up show. The front man of the band, Svavar, has a funny way of putting words together in his lyrics and people are constantly smiling when they see them perform. For example: The last song they performed is about an 18-year-old boy which is in love with a 100-year-old woman. You get my point. But it’s not just the lyrics that make Prins Póló interesting, it’s also grooving, simple rhythms that the four group members provide that without the lyrics would be as much fun. 3*/5*
Jagwar Ma: Making a big entrance, coming on stage with “What Love” and putting the volume up to eleven, the crowd went wild. This was obviously a band that many had been waiting to see perform. They released their debut album this summer which I really liked and I too was looking forward to the show. They defiantly have some good songs and gave all they had in their performance, but there was something off about them. The guitar didn’t fit the electronic house beats well enough and sometimes it felt like they were playing two songs at the same time. All their songs started up with a good beat and interesting melodies but when it comes to the point to break it up a bit, nothing happened and the show got monotonous. They peaked playing the song “Four,” which is a well suited live song. The singer, who looked and acted like Zoolander, needed a little more power added to his voice because of the loudness in the hall. Despite some flaws this was a solid performance from Jagwar Ma. 3*/5*
Yo La Tengo: On paper they are the biggest act playing at Airwaves this year other than Kraftwerk, and because of that they got a full hall. People were streaming in in the beginning of the show, but as it went on the stream started to go the other way. The band played some of their slower songs to begin with, as expected. They were very active in changing instruments and mixing up the show but Ira Kaplan stayed on electric guitar most of the time. He went from playing with much sangfroid to suddenly changing the mood, swinging the guitar in the air and creating a fuss. It sometimes felt like Kaplan forgot that he was playing in front of audience; he just went on with an experimental jam, not even connecting with the other members of the band. Some parts of it sounded cool but most of it was far away from cool. There is no doubt about their musical talent but this show needed more excitement and passion.
Before the concert I was very excited, being a big fan of albums like I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One and And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-out. I even dragged my friends with me to the concert telling them that this would probably be the best one this weekend. They will probably not trust me to make a selection for the rest of the festival because I couldn’t have been more wrong. 2*/5*
Photos by Aníta Björk Jóhannsdóttir and Iceland Airwaves.
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Leaves: A lot of changes have development in this band since they played their first gig at Airwaves 2001. They were so close to world-wide popularity when they released their first album, Breath, in 2002 but something was missing and maybe has been ever since.
It was rather obvious that Leaves haven’t been performing a lot lately when they stepped on the stage. The members looked a bit stiff and stressed but still cool, and there is no doubt that these guys are professional performers.
I went to see Leaves play because of my love for Breath and also some of their stuff from The Angela Test and We Are Shadows. Most of the songs they performed were from their newest album, See You In the Afterglow, and for me that was a bummer and I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one in the hall with that opinion. Still they put on a good show and they performed the songs well. The singer, Arnar Guðjónsson, has a great high pitch voice and sounds a lot like Matthew Bellamy from Muse. The show was good but if they had just played two old classics and added a little bit of passion, it could have been so much better. Also, I have to add that having the keys on playback is not cool. 2,5*/5*
Sóley: It was really crowded and there was obviously a lot of excitement in the audience to see Sóley perform. Even though some were standing 100 meters from the stage when she performed the whole audience was brought close when she raised her sensitive voice. She flirted at the microphone and told silly jokes between songs, which made the show more fun to watch. All through her set she got complete silence from the audience and everyone’s attention was on her. As she pointed out during the show, it was obviously Wednesday. The show peaked in the last two songs when she performed “Pretty Face” and “I’ll Drown” with remarkable looping skills. Sóleys career as a solo artist is still rising and soon she will have a tighter set. When that happens, it will be even more interesting to see her perform. 3*/5*
Samaris: I was on my way to see Mammút play at Harpan when I heard the tripping heavy beats of Samaris coming from the next room. I don’t regret sticking my head in to the hall to see if I was missing something good because I would have. There was no way I was leaving this concert after the first song. Their setup consists of the singer Jófríður sounding a lot like Björk, computer musician Þórður and clarinet player Áslaug, who had to be replaced during this show. This combination brings something special to the air and watching them perform is pure pleasure. Þórður provided dope, heavy electronic beats which fit Jófríðurs voice perfectly and her weird performance style makes it even more interesting. Songs that stood out were “Hljóma þú” and remixed version of the song “Viltu Vitrast”. Already having made a magnificent show they topped the performance with their well-known hit “Góða Tungl” which made the audiences obviously happy. 4*/5*
Retro Stefson: There is always so much energy in the air when this band goes on stage. This time they were supported by Hermigervill. Retro Stefson alone can provide some good grooves but with Hermigervill onboard the funky grooves they showed off were irresistible. They played the set on full speed almost without stopping and mixed the songs together making it even more fun to watch and listen. The singer of the band Unnsteinn made an entertaining performance directing the crowd and telling them to move left, right, up and down. His brother, Logi Pedro, meanwhile was slapping the bass like a maniac. The end of their gig was brilliant when they jammed between “Qween” and “She Said,” then ending it with “Glow” which made the crowd go wild. Suddenly it didn’t feel like Wednesday. 4*/5*
Emilíana Torrini: She sometimes has a way of making her shows personal and touching. This show was one of them. She talked a lot about her new born baby boy and said that he had inspired her recent work. Emilíana brought six band members with her to back her up, but still she dominated the stage with her outstanding voice. She was always smiling and giggling during the gig and dedicating songs to her child and the audience. The beginning of her show was very powerful and set a good mood to the audience. As songs went by a little bit of power was missing but she made up for that when she got her encore and performed “Sunnyroad” and “Jungle Drum”. 3,5*/5*
All photos via Iceland Airwaves.
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Since 1999, the Iceland Airwaves festival has been early Christmas for every music enthusiast in Iceland. We may not have the muddy campsite or 60,000 people jumping up and down in front of the Orange Stage, but what we do have is more stages, more bands, and more to drink. To be accurate, 221 bands will perform this year on 13 different stages downtown in Reykjavík at Iceland Airwaves. The number of stages isn’t a problem because the next show you want to see is never more than two songs away.
When Iceland Airwaves approaches every Icelandic musician gets goosebumps just thinking about the festival. It’s the time of the year when Icelandic music goes all in. For domestic bands the festival is a springboard to the world. Many music agents and reporters come to the festival hoping to find something new to show their bosses, and bands hope to make the headlines.
A band doesn’t need to have a radio hit on their résumé to get a gig at Airwaves; if the band can play and someone will show up they are good to go.
In the last few years many Icelandic artists have had great success. The gap between selling a few copies of rare albums at a local store in Reykjavík and playing at a festival for 50,000 is getting smaller. Of Monsters and Men is probably a good example of that. For that reason, more foreign people are starting to show an interest in visiting the festival. It’s frustrating for Icelanders that it can be hard to get one of those 7,000 tickets. But for those who were too late or too broke to buy a ticket there is an off-venue schedule with many big artists who play for free.
Iceland Airwaves is not all about the natives. Artists from all over the world visit the festival. Many great bands have made their appearances at the festival, for example: TV On the Radio, Fatboy Slim, Hot Chip, Florence and the Machine, Bloc Party, and Flaming Lips. This year 64 foreign artists will perform, most of them from USA, Canada, England, and Sweden. The biggest act, no doubt, is Kraftwerk in 3D, however you have to buy an extra ticket to see their show. Other exiting artists playing this year are the long living Yo La Tengo, Jagwar Ma, Mac Demarco, Gold Panda, Fucked Up and AlunaGeorge.
It is not just the bands that make Iceland Airwaves such a good gathering; the atmosphere is one of a kind. Even though you are freezing in a long queue, the show has started, and you lost one shoe, you’re still in a good mood. Let’s take a look at what the fuss is all about.
The Iceland Airwaves festival in 2006 marked a breaking point in FM Belfast’s orbit. The couple Lóa Hjálmtýsdóttir and Árni Hlöðversson were in need of more people for their performance at the festival and were joined by Örvar Þóreyjarson Smárason (founding member of múm), Árni Vilhjálmsson and part time member Björn Kristjánsson (also known as Borko). Together they have made two albums; How To Make Friends (2008) and Don’t Want Sleep (2011). Their main ingredient is hyper electronic pop music that is almost impossible not to dance to. If you intend to see FM Belfast live you should not make any plans afterwards that involve using a lot of energy. These kids will show you no mercy: They will suck all the energy out of you, and make sure that your toes will get stepped on.
If you are used to saying to the bartender, “just bring me something funky, fresh and exotic,” Retro Stefson is definitely your type of cocktail. They mix together various music genres and the outcome is universal summertime dance music with lyrics in Icelandic, English, Portuguese and French. Retro Stefson was formed in 2006 by frontman Unnsteinn Manuel and his brother Logi Pedro. The setup is completed with five former schoolmates. The band’s first album, Montana, was released in 2009, in 2010 Kimbabwe made the spotlight, and last year their self-titled album came out. All of these albums have included many singles which have gained them unstoppable airplay and uncountable number-one hits in Iceland. In spite of their young age, Retro Stefson has gained a large fan base in Iceland and they have started to get noticed outside the country. They have played in every Iceland Airwaves festival since 2006 and 2013 will be no exception.
In 2009 Icelandic reggae gave birth to its second offspring named Ojba Rasta. There had been no tradition for reggae music in Iceland before Hjálmar made their appearance in 2004, so Ojba Rasta was very welcome in the club. All their songs are in Icelandic except for their biggest hit, “Jolly Good”. They released their self titled debut album in 2012, and this month their second album Friður hit stores. Ojba Rasta has eleven band members including a dub-master, organist, guitarist, bassist and several wind instrument players. This mingling of instruments brings their live shows to a higher level, and audiences float in the groovy atmosphere that they create on stage.
Originally performing around the world with the indie band Seaber, she has now discovered that she can just do it by herself. Sóley is more popular than her band ever was and she is gaining a lot of fans in Europe. Her debut EP, Theater Island, was released in 2010, and was followed the year after with the studio album We Sink. Sóley is a multi-instrumentalist supported by a drummer and a guitarist/keyboardist. Her songs contain distant simple beats, beautiful piano strokes, and Sóley’s seductive voice which should be able to calm all the stressful nerves in your body.
He made a huge appearance in the Icelandic music scene last year, topping the charts on every radio station in Iceland. He appeared out of nowhere with the singles “Sumargestur” and “Leyndarmál”. Suddenly he made the album Dýrð í Dauðaþögn and won four awards at the Icelandic Music Awards. It is safe to say that he is the most popular artist in Iceland these days. The music is melodic folk, singing in a high pitch, sounding a lot like Bon Iver and making it hard to sing along. Ásgeir used his father’s poems as lyrics for his album. In spite of his young age and the popularity he has gained (especially from young girls), he has kept unobtrusive and says that this popularity has surprised him and that he just goes with the flow, not trying to impress anyone. Still he got John Grant to translate his lyrics to English to adjust a bigger market. His English version of Dýrð í Dauðaþögn will be released in January next year.
Active since 1997, múm have released seven records. Their debut, Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today is OK, came out in 2000, and their latest, Smilewound, was released last month (with a bonus track featuring Kyle Minogue). Bringing together electronic beats and melodies from founding members Gunnar Örn Tynes and Örvar Þóreyjarson Smárason (FM Belfast), they are supported with classical tones and instruments played by their fellow band members (including Ólöf Arnalds). Following up their album, the band has been playing gigs and festivals both in Asia and Europe. múms’ live shows is always a great experience. The loudness can be surprising compared to how comfortable and quiet their music sounds in the speakers at home. They are often accompanied by a dozen of people who help them put together the show which can be fun and energetic and sometimes feels like a jam session rather than a concert.
He might not be the first artist who comes to mind when think of a music festival, but the gig he’ll be performing will be something special and different from all the other acts on Iceland Airwaves this year. Backed by The Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Ólafur will perform a special show which you will need to buy an extra ticket to see. He will be performing the best from his career, which includes three studio albums: The first one, Eulogy for Evolution, was released in 2007 when Ólafur was only 20 years old. His latest, For Now I Am Winter, came out earlier this year. Ólafur is known for mixing classical music with ambient/electronic pop and the combination is mature experimental beauty.